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Pollen! A Dusting From Nature



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If your eyes itch like someone has thrown hot sauce into them, and your mouth feels like you've been eating chalk, you might at least be happy to know there's a reason for your misery.

Pollen.

It's not only that time of year again, it's that time of the century. Monday's pollen count of 5,156 was the second-highest ever recorded. The highest was 6,013 on April 12, 1999.

More telling might be the rainfall shortage for the month, which is on track to break a record set 99 years ago.

As of Monday afternoon, 0.45 inches of rain had fallen in Atlanta, about half the amount --- 0.88 inches --- that set a record for low rainfall in March 1905. Average rainfall for March, typically Georgia's wettest month, is 5.38 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

Rain showers expected Monday night could bring some relief, said Dr. David Tanner, an allergist at the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic, but the worst might not be over. In years past, pollen peaks toward the middle or end of the first week in April. As the trees continue to blossom, conditions could worsen, Tanner said.

"We don't know that this is the peak. The lack of rain keeps it from washing out of the air," Tanner said.

The dry weather mixed with a blossoming of oak, sweet gums, birch and cedar made Atlanta feel like a city dusted with green talc.

"It makes my head hurt," said Kaywanda Marion of Lithonia. "Once I step outside and walk into it, I feel it."

Ohlen Bramblett of Atlanta said his eyes have been itching but, "I've just learned to expect it. It's Atlanta."

To many residents, the bigger annoyance is the green coating on cars. The source of the green powder --- pine pollen --- is not the cause of the nasal discomfort. Pollen from oak, sweet gum, birch and cedar trees is what causes people to cough and sneeze, Tanner said.

Oaks are the worst offenders, producing tree flowers called catkins, which release allergens that cause reactions in about one in five people, the doctor said.

At least residents have learned to expect the seasonal aggravation. Consider the Xavier University basketball fans who traveled from Ohio only to watch their team lose to Duke in the NCAA regional tournament --- and to find their cars covered in mysterious green stuff.

"It was kind of a yellowish-green film on everything," said Musketeer fan Skip Tate of Cincinnati. "And I wondered, 'Where did that come from?' "

Even with all that, Tate said he'd take springtime in Atlanta compared with Cincinnati's usual late-spring weather.

"Sometimes we have snow up here on opening day [of baseball season]," he said. "I guess the pollen is one of the hazards of spring, but I'll take it."

Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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